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Camino de Santiago - Practical tips

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General information

The French Route ("Camino Francès") stretches about 769 km = 480 miles from St. Jean Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. It crosses several cities but much of it traverses vineyards, fields, forests, and abandoned agricultural areas. Some stretches are monotonous, with nothing but rolling plains kilometer after kilometer. Some stretches are steep and windy. In most places the path is separate from the highways, but in some places it runs right on the highway, or along city streets. The path is very well marked and there is at least one very good book that shows detailed maps. Cities along the route include Pamplona, Burgos, León, as well as many smaller but very scenic cities.

The Portuguese Route ("Camino Portuguès") starts in Lisbon or Porto in Portugal, but is poorly marked until the border town of Valença, where a steel bridge by Gustave Eiffel leads over the Minho (Miño) river to Tui in Galicia. The Galicia segment is about 115km but seems longer because of detours that try to avoid highways and the noisy freeway that obliterated sections of the ancient path. The route is often on ancient Roman or medieval roads that hug the terrain rather than cutting across it. Most of the route is very scenic. It is generally very well marked, but precise maps seem to be impossible to obtain. This route is much less crowded than the French Route.

Best times

Like most vacation destinations in Europe, the Camino is very crowded in July and August. Midsummer temperatures can be punishing. For walking, mid-May to mid-June and September to October are probably the best months, although you may occasionally run into late or early snow in the mountains. November to March are not recommended, as it can be bitterly cold and snow may add considerable difficulty to the route. Some people break their Camino experience into separate stages over several years.

Best route

It is hard to tell which route is better. It depends on your interest and time. The French route carries the bulk of the pilgrims (about 95% in 2003), because it is the best known and it has the richest documentation. Other routes are less known, but also less crowded; that can have its own charm. Our predesigned tours are along the French route. Upon request we can design a custom tour along the Portuguese route or any other route.

What is included in Saranjan tours of the Camino de Santiago

Check the specifics for your tour, as they may vary depending on the options you choose. Generally, the following is included in our tours:

  • Hotels, with buffet breakfast
  • Daily lunch or dinner, sampling fine regional cuisine and select Spanish wines
  • Fully escorted tour with English-speaking guide
  • All admissions and gratuities
  • All land transfers, including airport transfers
  • Flight, Santiago to Madrid
  • Porters in connection with transfers
  • Pre-trip information

If you plan to walk

Walking the Camino can be grueling. In some places you can walk fast and comfortably, and in some other places the going may be quite slow, especially on the routes that are less travelled than the French Route. Good shoes, well broken in, are essential. The path can be rough and muddy. Although some people do attempt to walk in sneakers or sandals, they quickly come to regret it. In our most recent experience walking the Portuguese Route, we found that newer high tech walking socks and liners, with "ventilated" hiking boots, were quite comfortable. We also used something called BodyGlide on our feet to help prevent chafing and rubbing. We did not have a single blister, but we did walk short daily stages (up to 10 miles), while some people will cover as much as 45km (30 miles), which we would not recommend. A wide brimmed hat and sunscreen are also essential, as are emergency raingear, first aid and blister kits, and plenty of water. A good walking stick is very helpful, especially on rougher or steep stretches, and it does help shoo away the occasional errant dog. Beyond that, needless to say, you want to carry as little as possible. See the links below for other recommendations, packing lists, and tales of the road.

Credentials and certificates

Qualifying pilgrims can receive an official "Compostela" bearing their name upon arriving in Santiago. To qualify for the Compostela, you must walk the last 100km or bicycle the last 200km of one of the recognized Caminos. You must also indicate whether you did the Camino for religious, spiritual, cultural or other reasons. To prove that you met the requirements, you must have a Pilgrim's Credential, which must have been stamped along the way (two stamps a day starting in 2004) at churches, police stations, pilgrim's refuges, or other way stations, which are sometimes bars or stores in smaller villages.

The Pilgrim's Credential is best obtained in advance (see below). However, you should be able to obtain one at one of the usual starting points, but you may find out that things are not as organized as they could be in that regard. For example, when we started out on the much less frequented Portuguese route, we went to the cathedral of Tui. The priest who was there did not recognize the Credential we had obtained in advance from the Friends of the Camino (which is more common on the French Route). Instead, he sold us a fresh official Credential for a very small fee. The Pilgrim's Credential is also required if you plan to stay in the free pilgrim's refuges along the way.

Staying along the way

Should you go on your own, there are free pilgrim's refuges along the way for pilgrims carrying the proper credential. They operate strictly on a first come basis. They vary considerably in amenities and friendliness. They have at least one common dormitory, with some washing facilities and sometimes cooking facilities.

Alternatives to the refuges include hotels and Casas Rurales (rural lodgings); however those are often several kilometers off the path. It is sometimes possible to arrange to be picked up on the path, and then dropped off to continue from the same point the next day. Sometimes this can only be arranged with a taxi. This pick up and drop off method typically requires advanced reservations. A cell phone and some fluency in Spanish are also needed.

A better way is to pay a knowledgeable tour operator like Saranjan Tours to make the arrangements and provide the necessary backup services. This can be quite expensive, compared to the actual price for the lodgings. However, if your command of Spanish is limited and you would like more comfort than is offered by the refuges, and if your idea of a good time is not to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, depending on the kindness of strangers, it is definitely worth it.

Where to get more information

Note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the sites linked below. Some links may also disappear without notice. You can find a lot more information by googling "Camino de Santiago", "Way of St. James" or "milky way santiago". As usual on the web, you should excercise caution when navigating to an unknown site. Make sure that your antivirus and firewall are functioning and up to date.

General information

Tales of the road

There are many illustrated guides and journals of the Camino on the web. A short sample:

  • A practical guide by Jean-Christie Ashmore, "Camino de Santiago: To Walk Far, Carry Less".
  • A sometimes hilarious journal by István Lengyel.
  • Dudley S. Glover's illustrated journal.
  • Journal of a bicycle journey
  • Another bicycle journey

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Copyright © 2016 Saranjan, Inc. All rights reserved